How Important Are Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to Georgia Really?

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How Important Are Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to Georgia Really?
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With so much quarterback turnover in the SEC, it's fair to say that the running backs are going to drive the bus in 2014.

Nowhere will that be more prevalent than in Athens, Georgia, where junior Todd Gurley is back at 100 percent and ready to pick up where he left off before an ankle injury suffered in late September hampered his campaign. Despite that, he managed to rush for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 441 yards and six more scores.

Behind him, fellow junior Keith Marshall is back from an ACL tear and will provide a solid backup and changeup option for head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Marshall has rushed for 1,005 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two seasons. 

Richt implied that this could be the last year between the hedges for one or both of his top running backs, according to Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

What are the chances of Gurley staying around a long time? You know, (and) Keith Marshall for that matter? You know, if you only have three running backs on campus, and you take two out of there … That’s not enough. The kids know that.

If that's the case, Georgia has a nice insurance policy in the form of 5-stars Nick Chubb and Sony Michel

USA TODAY Sports
Georgia RB Nick Chubb

"One of the most impressive aspects of Georgia's 2014 Top 10 signing class was the ability to reel in two 247Sports Composite 5-star running backs without having to sell them on starting as a freshman," said Kipp Adams, national recruiting insider for 247Sports.com.

But what if they do have to play as freshmen?

Both current star running backs in Athens are coming off injury, and Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman are slated to be the primary backups entering fall camp. In one short season, the running back spot at Georgia has gone from razor-thin to incredibly deep, creating a "rich man's problem" for Richt.

Chubb made Internet waves earlier this offseason when pictures of him running and jumping at the Georgia state track championships surfaced on the Internet.

While that made him an instant Internet phenomenon, he has the skills to back up the hype on the football field. At 5'11" and 216 pounds, Chubb has similar all-around athleticism as Gurley, complete with the track background and the body style to take the punishment between the tackles.

"As impressive as Chubb's measurables are, the true question will be whether he can break longer runs and get separation in the SEC," Adams said. "If he can, the comparisons to Gurley will be justified."

Just how close is he to becoming an all-around back?

The last piece of the puzzle for most freshmen running backs is the ability to pick up the blitz. While Chubb doesn't have a ton of experience in that department, the few glimpses scouts have seen of him in pass protection have been positive.

"What could get him on the field early is his potential in picking up the blitz in pass protection," Adams said. "This is an area that, although he does not have extensive experience in from the offense he ran in high school, he really shined in at the Atlanta NFTC last spring."

What Chubb is to Gurley, Michel is to Marshall. At 5'11", 205 pounds, Michel is the more elusive back in Georgia's 2014 class, and the Fort Lauderdale product has superstar written all over him.

"Michel is strong enough to get the tough yards inside, explosive enough to turn a sweep into a big gain and elusive enough to get extra yards at the second level," Adams said. "With Chubb getting a lot of publicity for his physical prowess, it must be noted that Michel has very few, if any, weaknesses to his game."

The future is bright in Athens at the running back position whenever Gurley and Marshall decide to move on. And if the newcomers are pressed into action earlier than expected, they can handle the load.

Is either capable of replicating what Gurley can do? Of course not. 

But Georgia's offense is predicated on establishing the run and working off play action, and the freshmen duo is capable of presenting a threat.

Are Nick Chubb and Sony Michel capable of stepping in right away and producing if needed?

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If they are pressed into action, more pressure would be thrust upon redshirt senior and first-year starting quarterback Hutson Mason. He worked as Aaron Murray's understudy for the first four years of his Bulldog career, and he is stepping into a situation this year where, with the loads of weapons around him, all he needs to do is be a caretaker for Georgia to be successful.

Another injury-plagued year from the Georgia backfield would force him to be more of a difference-maker; but it's not a stretch to think he's capable of doing just that with wide receivers Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett lining up outside.

The current Georgia backfield is loaded with talent and potential, and Chubb and Michel should be able to transform that potential into production whenever they're asked to shoulder the load.

Even if that's this year.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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